Users As Innovators

Tapping your resource pool


There is an increasing interest towards the value of resources that lie beyond an organization's boundaries. One of those resources are your users. They are no longer just passive recipients, and user innovation has been recognized as one of the most valuable research streams within the open innovation movement.


Because the unique knowledge these users can offer is perceived as a valuable asset since it influences and improves the understanding of real-life applications of the company's product or services.

However, the true challenge lies in capturing those ideas and transforming them into commercialized innovations. Although many companies are using frameworks, studies, interviews and various tools to capture those ideas, those who are more advanced are opening knowledge management processes and tools for gathering, capturing and making sense of those ideas.

What is the idea behind user innovation?

There are three questions a company must ask:

  • What motivation do our users have to share their knowledge for innovation purposes?
  • Which practices have we set in that support efficient user innovation management?
  • What key challenges do we face from the KM perspective?

The basics of user innovation process

Who will lead your user innovation process? 

Identifying and approaching primary users is the first step of innovation. They are the ones who would be thrilled to take part in idea sourcing projects. Primary users are not only passionate about collaborating with the company, but they also share a great interest in the new technology and they want to try everything that has been recently developed. Their ideas about the potential use of your products go beyond technological viewpoints about their upcoming evolution.

It is important, however, to take into consideration their experience and expertise. Pure ideas are not enough, we need to understand the users behind them as well.

Primary users vs mainstream users

The way primary users see things is important because they will be the ones to predict the potential needs of mainstream users. If they ever become mainstream, because the desires of both types of users might not match: requirements labeled by the first group may be of little interest to the second group. Companies must take this into consideration because as primary users will often volunteer to participate in these projects, mainstream users will be hard to attract.

If you focus too much on your primary testing group because they will form a successful community that would be an amazing pool of fresh ideas and shared knowledge. On the other hand, primary users are also thought leaders when it comes to technology and their participation does not only affect the innovation, but also the behavior of their peers.

Primary users need a place to share their experiences, and it’s in the company’s best interest to provide them with an appropriate platform to help capture shared knowledge but not influence it. More often than not, they decide to outsource their software development or create a custom software. According to COING software development, more and more companies decide to follow this path. It is important for companies to have an analytical eye for the tacit knowledge embedded in this creative ideation process to filter out the quality from the noise.

How to promote participation

When it comes to user motivation, a simple incentive such as a free product (a phone or a car) can make your users want to share their insights, knowledge, and ideas to win those products. Another thing that helps motivation is a strong brand image such as Apple's, as users feel like they have been given a unique opportunity to influence the products of a recognized brand.

Selecting relevant knowledge

Identifying and selecting relevant information is a huge concern in an elaborate ideation process. The question companies should start from is: 'What are the ways for us to gain true knowledge, and bring in relevant information that will match the requisites of our in-house innovation process?'

The second biggest concern is how to identify the relevant parts of the user contribution. One of the ways to accomplish that is to identify experts. However, people may often exaggerate their expertise, so having a way for their peers to validate their expertise is greatly appreciated.

The final step is left to the company, who need to recognize the requirements behind the users’ feedback. They must also be competent to anticipate the needs the user is not even aware of. It’s more a matter of filtering than the volume of information.

Ongoing innovation

In order to gain long-haul innovation outcomes, this process should be run on an ongoing basis and the knowledge should be applied immediately.

The ideation process should be kept simple and straightforward. The process itself should be different from planning, executing, and achieving results sometime in the future. The ideation process should be as fast as possible and users’ ideas should be processed soon after capturing them. The method of acquiring feedback should be ongoing and produce fresh ideas that the company can use. That way, the whole process of listening to your user's ideas brings the company closer to its users. If possible, they should be included in the innovation process all through the product lifecycle.

Inno balls small

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